Prayer for Deliverance from Vanity
William Nicholson, 1862
"Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in your way!" Psalm 119:37
The citizenship of the Christian is in Heaven. By profession, by renovating grace, by separation from the world — he is a traveler to the Zion above. But he is not perfect, he does not always press forward. There are influences within him and around him which sometimes impede his progress.
The "vanities" of earth sometimes attract his attention, and solicit his participation. It is then the conflict begins, and then he prays, "Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in your way." The Christian is not invulnerable to these attacks. Frequently they are occasioned by the lack of spirituality, and of fellowship with God. Hence it is necessary to pray. "Quicken me in your way."
I. The Evil from Which the Psalmist Prayed to Be Delivered."Vanity." "Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities; all is vanity!" Ecclesiastes 1:2
The word vanity refers to that which is unprofitable, or without meaning or fruit. It signifies empty, without any substance. "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain." "Surely every man walks in a vain show." Job calls the time of his affliction, "months of vanity" — that is, empty of solid joy, peace, or comfort. Job 7:3.
Man, as to his continuance on earth, is like vanity, a vapor, a breath. Psalm 39:5.
Vanity is applied to the possessions of life. "Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished." Proverbs 13:11. "The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is vanity." Proverbs 21:6. And Christ says, "What shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul?"
The text means that which is empty, meaningless, unsatisfying, wicked, yielding nothing but "vexation of spirit."
1. That beholding vanity, or delight in the trifles of earth arises from a depraved heart. "He feeds on ashes, a deceived heart has turned him aside." Isaiah 44:20. "Behold, I have found this out: God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices for evil!" Ecclesiastes 7:29
2. The word vanity will apply to sin. It is unproductive of any solid comfort. It promises much, but how does it perform? "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!" Romans 6:21
But sin exhibits itself in various ways, it assumes different forms — but in all its representations, it is vanity. Consider some of these:
1. Worldly pursuits are characterized by vanity, that is, when they wholly absorb the mind; when they command all the time, talent, and attention of a person — when through them the soul is neglected — no time for God — -none for his cause.
2. The accumulation of riches. "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless." Ecclesiastes 5:10. Those who have had much wealth — have had less satisfaction, and more vexation than those who have had little. Indulgence increases desire — and diminishes enjoyment. Hence if the whole world could be possessed, it would only render the desire the greater, and the enjoyment the less. Alexander the Great sat down and wept, because there were no more worlds to conquer. "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs!" 1 Timothy 6:9-10
3. The love of honor and power. All men love these. Even in ordinary life, men think highly of themselves — they love to rule and to be praised. What is the royalty of kings? — their pageantry and pomp are all shadowy. What the prowess and military talent of conquerors? etc. "Scatter the people that delight in war!"
4. Sensual indulgence. "The works of the flesh are manifest." Galatians 5:19-21. Foods and drinks — fancy clothing and houses — intemperance, gluttony, drink etc. An inordinate love of these is vanity.
5. Worldly amusements. Recreation is necessary — but it must be of that kind which will maintain a good conscience. What are theatrical performances, but vain and sinful? So far from being promotive of virtue, they are one of the most successful engines of vice that Satan ever invented. Plato banished them from his commonwealth. Xenophon commended the Persians for not allowing their youth to attend them. Seneca complained that by the stage vice made an insensible approach, and stole on the people in the disguise of pleasure. Tacitus says that the German ladies preserved their honor by having no play-houses among them.
The ball-room — gambling — sinful diversions — all these are vanity.
That these things are unsatisfying, will appear:
1. From Scripture in general, and from individual characters. How the Bible represents the world in its proper light — a wicked world — full of vain men — and full of vanity! Note,
(1.) The first witness is David, the king of Israel. "Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in your way." Psalm 119:37
(2.) Solomon. "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun!" Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
When kings, amid their splendor and royalty, so represent the matter, it ought deeply to impress our minds.
(3.) Jesus Christ. He knew the world, and prayed that his disciples might be kept from the evil of it.
2. From the statements of those who have loved vanity, and been disappointed.
Abderaman, caliph (a ruler of an Islamic state) of Cordova, after his death this writing was found: "Fifty years are elapsed since I became caliph. I have possessed riches, honors, pleasures, friends, everything that man can desire in this world. I have reckoned up the days in which I could say that I was really happy, and they amount to fourteen."
Saladin the Great, after he had subdued Egypt, passed the Euphrates, retaken Jerusalem, and performed other great exploits, just before he died — called the herald who had carried his banner before him in all his battles, and commanded him to fasten to the top of a lance the shroud in which he was soon to be buried. "Go!" said he, "carry the lance, unfurl the banner, and, while you lift it up, proclaim, 'This is all that remains of the glory of Saladin the Great!'"
A certain nobleman, during his life, said to the world, "You are my god!" But in death it forsook him. Listen to what he said before he died: "I have run the silly rounds of business and pleasure, and have done with them all. I am done with all the pleasures of the world, and therefore know their futility, and do not regret their loss! I appraise them at their real value, which is in truth very low, whereas, those who have not experienced always overrate them. They only see the mirthful outside, and are dazzled with their glare.
"But I have been behind the scenes. I have seen all the coarse pulleys and dirty ropes which exhibit and move the gaudy machines; and I have seen and smelled the tallow candles which illumine the whole decoration, to the astonishment and admiration of an ignorant audience. When I reflect back upon what I have seen, what I have heard, and what I have done — I can hardly persuade myself that all that frivolous hurry and bustle, and pleasure of the world, had any reality. I look upon all that has passed, as one of those romantic dreams which opium commonly occasions, and I do by no means desire to repeat the nauseous dose, for the sake of the fugitive dream.
"Shall I tell you that I bear this melancholy situation with that meritorious constancy and resignation which most people boast of? No; for I really cannot help it. I bear it because I must bear it. I think of nothing but killing time — now that he is become my enemy. It is my resolution to sleep in the carriage during the remainder of the journey."
3. That they are vanity, appears from the nature of the soul. That which is immaterial cannot be satisfied with that which is material. Even sinners find, from the boundless desires of the soul, the emptiness of earthly pursuits. Nothing but eternity can satisfy the soul.
4. They are proved to be vanity in the hour of death. What comfort can they give? None!
5. They are base, when compared with eternal realities.
II. A Recognition of the Necessity of Divine Power to Divert the Mind from Vanity, and to Direct it to the Pursuit of Substantial Happiness."Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken me in your way!"
1. That the pleasures of the world are insinuating — that they dazzle and captivate — that their power and enticements are felt to be strong.
2. An acknowledgment of helplessness. I cannot resist their power — the torrent is too strong — the voice of the charmer is too sweet.
3. Believing prayer. Application to God for deliverance from vanity. God can do it . . .
by enlightenment: showing the vanity of the world, can unmask it,
by causing hatred to vanity,
by directing the mind to that which is substantial
By quickening it in the way to Heaven.
1. Worldly vanity is the cause of spiritual declension, and the reason why the progress of Christianity on the earth is so slow.
2. Let the multitudes who are bending at the shrine of pleasure, excite our pity and compassion.
3. Christians will soon realize that which is eternally substantial.